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Use action verbs

We have all read those long, hard-to-understand sentences—the ones filled with nouns—and asked, "Why don't they just say what they mean?" In most cases, replacing nouns with action verbs would make these sentences clearer and shorter.

Change nouns into action verbs

Look for nouns formed from verbs—especially those ending in –ence, –ion, –ment—and turn them back into verbs. By drawing out the hidden verbs in your writing, you can cut out the nouns that often muddy your message.

Very often, these nouns are part of a verb-plus-noun phrase, such as make a pretence, undertake an examination, reach an agreement. Notice how the examples below are shorter and clearer when these phrases are replaced with verbs:

Noun: John made a pretence of listening to Sarah.
Verb: John pretended to listen to Sarah.

Noun: The committee will undertake an examination of the documents.
Verb: The committee will examine the documents.

Noun: The neighbours finally reached an agreement to build a fence.
Verb: The neighbours finally agreed to build a fence.

But verbs disguised as nouns can also be single words which can be replaced with a verb form:

Noun: The adoption of these guidelines will make our task easier.
Verb: Adopting these guidelines will make our task easier.

Noun: We were asked for a recommendation regarding an antivirus program.
Verb: We were asked to recommend an antivirus program.

Recognizing hidden verbs

The following table gives examples of noun endings that may signal hidden verbs:

Noun endings Instead of nouns Use verbs
–al proposal
refusal
propose
refuse
–age leakage
stoppage
leak
stop
–ance acceptance
performance
accept
perform
–ancy, –ency hesitancy
tendency
hesitate
tend
–ant disinfectant
irritant
disinfect
irritate
–ant disinfectant
irritant
disinfect
irritate
–ence defence
pretence
defend
pretend
–ion investigation
recommendation
investigate
recommend
–ment encouragement
enforcement
encourage
enforce
–y discovery
mockery
discover
mock